And now, here’s the 3-D Man with some advice for those of you in failing relationships:
Yes, it’s time once again for the Internet’s Most Tingly Comics Reviews! And since I’ve started narrowing down the field of what I review every week, this time I’ve decided to do a theme. So to that end, here are my thoughts on three comics by dudes named Paul!
Batman: Streets of Gotham #12: Paul Dini gets a lot of flak from the Comics Blogger Internet for being in love with certain characters and overusing them, but while there are a lot of legitimate complaints you can make about the guy’s work, I really don’t think that’s one of them.
I mean, yes, he throws Harley Quinn and Zatanna (see below) into just about everything, but a) it’s not like there aren’t a ton of fans out there who love those characters just as much as he does, and b) what’s wrong with a guy writing about the stuff he likes? I mean, I certainly wouldn’t want to write Gambit and Wonder Man at the Gathering of the Juggalos, and most of the time, he’s fleshing out characters that make for a richer storytelling environment. It doesn’t always work out–the amped-up Mr. Zsasz, for instance, fell totally flat for me and Hush is a character that is fundamentally flawed in that he sucks, he’s stupid and I hate him–and Dini’s got his share of comics that are thoroughly lousy for other reasons, but when it does work, it’s really good.
Which brings me to this issue, which focuses on The Carpenter, who was introduced a while back as a henchman to what seemed at the time like throwaway villain, and who Dini has further developed since. In this issue, she fits a perfect little Paul Gambi role that you don’t see too often: in addition to henching, she also puts her carpentry skills to use building deathtraps in super-villain hideouts. It’s a concept that could easily devolve into navel-gazing, but Dini keeps the story moving at a brisk, engaging pace, even pairing her up with a new (and hilariously over the top) villain. Which, again, is something that’s great about Dini’s work when he’s on: He brings new stuff to the table, and it’s often pretty clever.
There are only two problems with the story: First, Batman’s barely in it. That’s not a huge issue if the story that’s being told is good enough (which this one is), and while Batman’s name is on the cover, this is Streets of Gotham, which is ostensibly designed to provide a wider take on Gotham City and the extended Batman Family. Like I said, it’s a good story and between you and me, I only really care about what Batman’s doing in comics by Grant Morrison these days, but for whatever reason, his absence was noticeable. Probably because it’s him and a bunch of bats on the cover rather than the Carpenter, setting up expectations that aren’t met.
Secondly, and far more insurmountable, there’s a break in the (enjoyable) Carpenter story to continue the (not enjoyable) other stuff that’s been going on in the book, and holy crap, did you guys know there’s a character in this book named Abuse? I probably would’ve noticed this sooner if I hadn’t completely checked out of the main story in favor of the Manhunter backups (which this month is unfortunately saddled with some art I flat-out do not care for) about six months ago, but man. As much as I value Dini’s attempts to bring in new stuff: That is straight up rough.
Overall, though, it’s pretty good stuff, and I’m glad to see it. When Dini’s bad, he’s downright atrocious, but when he’s good, he does exactly the sort of stuff I want to read.
Legion of Super-Heroes #1: One of my favorite franchises got a relaunch this week, and, well… it’s certainly a comic about the Legion of Super-Heroes.
The return of Paul Levitz to the title is something a lot of people have been excited about, and justifiably so: He wrote some of the best comics in the history of the team. An Eye for an Eye isn’t just a high point for the Legion, it’s a high point for comics in the ’80s, and that’s saying something. But it’s been a quarter of a century since that came out, and this issue just feels off.
From a technical standpoint, it’s not bad–at the very least, Levitz has always been good at the juggling of multiple plot threads that having such a big cast requires– and it’s very well-done artwise, but it just sort of lays there on the page, completely failing to engage me. Maybe it’s just that I’ve been thinking so much about the Legion lately, and maybe it’s that I’ve been re-reading the Tom Peyer/Tom McCraw/Roger Stern ’90s Legion issues lately, but considering that I really liked what Geoff Johns did in Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes, which leads directly to this, I should’ve liked it more than I did.
But instead, it just gets worse the more I think about it. There are inconsistencies in the characters (Brainiac 5 acts way more like a ranting mad scientist than he did in SATLOSH) and the book’s major plot point just doesn’t make sense. The Legion letting Earth-Man join after he literally has themthrown into concentration camps or imprisoned in glass boxes that let him steal their powers is just crazy, and the fact that it’s only addressed by a hand-waving “oh it’s political” line makes it even worse. Creating tension within a team is fine, but the only Legionnaires in this book that are actually from Earth are Sun Boy (who Earth-Man tortured half to death) and Colossal Boy (whose wife was beaten and imprisoned by Earth-Man), so why would anyone want to have him on the team to smooth over political repercussions? They make a big deal about reforming him into an example of “Earthers” cooperating with aliens, but the guy is Space Hitler. There’s no reason given why they actually need Earth’s backing, just that it’s “where the Legion belongs.” There’s a mention of sharing the Time Institute’s discoveries with the rest of the United Planets, but again: They already have time travel, and we know that because they just finished teaming up with Superman, who is from a thousand years in the past. None of it makes any sense.
And then there’s the cover, where book that’s an old version of a team written by a guy who wrote it 25 years ago that even has its old logo gets billed as “AN ALL-NEW ERA.” I don’t mean to knock Levitz here, but seriously: What’s all-new about this? There are plenty of superlatives you could hang on this one (“A RETURN TO GREATNESS!” “THE CLASSIC TEAM REBORN!” “HEY OLD FOLKS, HERE’S YOUR COMICS!”) and in all fairness, I guess it actually is a new “era” for the Legion, but it feels like someone’s having a laugh.
I really want there to be a good Legion comic, and at this point, I don’t care if it’s the reboot, the threeboot, the deboot, the animated series, crazy porno fanart or what. I’ve got my preference, sure, but right now I just want it to be good. And this issue doesn’t fit the bill, no matter how much I wish it did.
Zatanna #1: So this is a comic that opens with a full-page splash of Zatanna bound, gagged and about to be drilled from behind.
It is pretty hilarious. It’s also based on an actual illusion, but Paul Dini’s a smart enough guy that he’s not oblivious to the symbolism in what he’s writing, especially considering that he put Dr. Light in there. He is, in essence, opening his book with a response to every one of his critics who dismisses him as a writer with a crush on Zatanna, and that response is “Yeah, so?” It’s Dini brushing his shoulders off, and that’s pretty awesome.
There’s no denying that Zatanna is one of his favorites–a good thing, as his marriage likely hinges on being at least a little in love with a hot magician–but the end result of that is that he’s actually written a string of really good Zatanna stories. There’s the Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited episodes, of course, but also 2003’s very underrated Vertigo one-shot, and while I’m pretty sure she appeared more than Alfred and Commissioner Gordon combined during his run on Detective Comics, but again, they were decent stories.
And now, she’s been bumped up to her first ever ongoing, and even past the metatextual hilarity of the splash page, it’s pretty solid. There’s clear motivation, a nice setup, a quick introduction to set of villains that get handily dealt with in an action scene that lends the book a good bit of pacing. One of Dini’s core strengths in comics has been his ability to get things done both good and quickly (his Detective run is marked by a string of solid single-issue stories), and he does everything you want from a first issue here. It’s solid stuff, and I’m hoping it gets better as it goes on.
And that’s the week! As always, if something caught your eye, feel free to tell me about it in the comments section below, and for more reviews of this week’s comics, tune in to Ajax on Monday and keep an eye on ComicsAlliance, where we’ve got a big roundtable coming up where we tackle Avengers #1!